Transport Airports

Heavy snow storms wreck havoc on air and train travel across Europe

Jan 19, 2013 1:11 am

Skift Take

Hundreds of cancellations in at least five major European cities will complicate air travel for the rest of the weekend with a substantial number of flyers looking to rebook flights in cities around the world.

— Samantha Shankman

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Charles Hutchins  / Flickr

Snow complicates service at London's Heathrow Airport. Charles Hutchins / Flickr


London’s Heathrow airport, the busiest in Europe, canceled 347 flights or 25 percent of the total scheduled and said others would be delayed as heavy snowfalls swept across southern Britain.

Services are alternating between the hub’s two runways to allow for plowing, and people due to fly today should check with their airline before setting out, Heathrow Ltd. said. London City Airport closed briefly and Paris Charles de Gaulle will scrap a fifth of flights this evening as the snow spreads east.

The U.K. Met Office issued a “red” alert for Wales, warning that some areas might have as much as 30 centimeters (12 inches) of snow. British Airways, Heathrow’s biggest operator, scrapped mainly short-haul flights to cities including Paris, Barcelona and Berlin, though a trip to New York was also called off. Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. said it was suffering delays.

“We are keeping our schedule under constant review and will adjust it further if we need to,” British Airways said. “If customers no longer wish to travel between Friday and Sunday they can rebook their flight to a later date.”

Rail impact

U.K. rail services have also been affected, with Stagecoach Group Plc’s South West Trains and Abellio’s Greater Anglia among companies paring timetables in an effort to minimize disruption.

Eurostar Group Ltd., whose trains to London from Paris and Brussels have been brought to a halt during previous snowfalls, preemptively cancelled four services and lowered speed limits.

British Airways, a unit of International Consolidated Airlines Group SA, operated a noon flight to Los Angeles on scheduled, and said others to locations including Rio de Janeiro and Toronto would depart as planned. Trips to Copenhagen and St. Petersburg were among those cancelled.

Virgin Atlantic, a long-haul specialist, hadn’t been compelled to drop any services, spokeswoman Anna Catchpole said.

Earlier in the day, Cardiff and Southampton airports scrapped flights as the blizzards swept in from the west.

Gatwick, London’s second-busiest hub, is operating normally after 5 centimeters of snow fell on its single runway, with a handful of inbound flights scrapped because of disruption elsewhere. Stansted, the No. 3, said it’s not suffering any problems, while Luton, headquarters of low-cost carrier Easyjet Plc, reported only brief delays for snow clearance.

London City, favored by business travelers, resumed flights after being closed for about 90 minutes for the removal of snow this morning. The runway remains open, though with some delays and cancellations, spokeswoman Geraldine Nolan said.

‘Accumulating’

Gatwick has spent 8 million pounds ($13 million) on snow measures since 2010, boosting the fleet of plows and brushes to 98 vehicles. It also has enough de-icing fluid for 10 days, and 43 non-operational staff trained to help keep the runway clear.

“It’s snowing and it’s accumulating, but the runway and taxiways have been treated with de-icer and we are currently operating as normal,” the airport, located south of London and owned by Global Infrastructure Partners LP, said in a statement.

Thousands of homes in Wales were without power after supplies were cut by the snow, and as many as 400 schools have closed on the Isle of Wight and in Hampshire, southern England, according to the British Broadcasting Corp.

Temperatures in the U.K. are likely to remain around zero in London, the Met Office said, with the national forecaster warning of widespread icy roads.

Paris threat

Snowfalls yesterday led to hundreds of flight cancellations in Germany and Austria, curtailing service by carriers including Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Europe’s second-biggest.

Munich airport scrapped 120 flights today, at least half as a knock-on from 345 cancellations yesterday, when runways were cleared a record eight times. Frankfurt airport, owned by Fraport AG, lost 30 services — mostly to Munich, London and Hamburg — versus about 40 yesterday, while Vienna scrapped 25 this morning and said the situation should normalize later.

In France, the civil aviation authority aims to ground 20 percent of flights at Charles de Gaulle and 10 percent at Paris Orly from 4 p.m. local time in anticipation of heavy snow this afternoon and overnight, it said in a statement.

With assistance from Richard Weiss in Frankfurt. Editors: Chris Jasper and Robert Valpuesta.

To contact the reporters on this story: Kari Lundgren in London at klundgren2@bloomberg.net; Robert Wall in Toulouse at rwall6@bloomberg.net. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at bkammel@bloomberg.net.

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